Arms to Syria debate splits diplomatic corps

The dispute over the lifting of the EU arms embargo on Syria, enabling EU countries to send arms to moderate opposition forces fighting the Assad regime, has divided opinion in the London diplomatic corps.

In an Embassy Ambassador poll, 52 per cent of heads of mission were against arming Syrian rebels, stating that the decision would make the situation worse because it would “intensify the arms race” between the regime and the rebels and “increase the violence”.

One Ambassador told Embassy: “We are very disappointed with the British and the French.” Referring to the decision by Russia to supply Syria’s military with an advanced missile system, he added: “We are equally concerned at the Russian reaction. This is exactly what we predicted and feared.”

Some claimed the threat of arming the rebels if peace talks fail would do little to put pressure on President Assad to take the negotiations seriously.

“It will do just the opposite,” said one head of mission, who added that the lifting of the embargo may interfere with the peace talks because it could change the attitude of the rebel forces. “This measure will discourage the opposition from engaging with the Government,” said the Ambassador.

One senior diplomat told Embassy a diplomatic solution was the only way to stop the Syrian civil war spiralling into a proxy war.

Those arguing in favour of arming moderate rebels (48 per cent) said the EU decision would improve the situation because it would help to rebalance power.

“War will stop after the weaker side becomes equally armed as the Assad’s forces and that will be the time for a peace agreement,” said one Ambassador.

However, some of those who argued in favour of lifting the arms ban on moderate opposition fighters seemed ambivalent, saying the measure would have a “marginal impact” on the situation.

One respondent – although in favour of arming the rebels – did comment, somewhat ironically, that lifting the arms embargo “will tremendously increase profit in the defence industries worldwide…”
Broken down by region, those in favour were drawn from the neighbouring region, the EU and the Balkans. Those against were drawn largely from the emerging powers, Africa and Latin America and some EU states.